OXFORD – As Ole Miss concludes spring drills with today’s annual intrasquad scrimmage the Rebels’ first-team offensive linemen will carry that status into the summer in name only.
It’s a group in flux as offensive line coach Matt Luke works to replace two starters – one of them a three-year center – and build depth across the board.
Kickoff at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is noon.
Not all the pieces and parts have been available to Luke this spring. Junior guard Aaron Morris will soon be cleared after ACL surgery but gone through drills. Junior college transfer signee Fahn Cooper is expected to compete for the job at right tackle, but he won’t arrive until the summer.
UCLA transfer Christian Morris has missed spring with an Achilles injury and is also waiting to hear if the NCAA will approve his waiver for immediate eligibility.
“In the spring you’re worried about players, you’re not worried about plays. Those centers getting reps,” Luke said. “That’s what we’re doing, individuals getting better.”
Junior Ben Still continues to run first team at center with Robert Conyers, a third-year sophomore, not far behind.
Luke had given thought to moving Justin Bell into the competition, but there’s been progress with Still and Conyers, and if one emerges as a solid starter, depth increases. That would allow Bell to remain at guard – where he alternated the left and right sides last year and made third starters – and not put early pressure on incoming freshman Rod Taylor.
Luke is optimistic that either Still (6-3, 292) or Conyers (6-5, 295) will develop into an effective center. Still has a little more playing experience, although it’s come at guard. Conyers, a converted tackle, is more athletic.
“Because of how well those guys are doing I think we can leave Justin where he is. He’ll play both guard spots. That’s where Justin can be valuable and to have the ability to have Justin as an emergency guy,” Luke said.
The absence of Aaron Morris has allowed redshirt freshman Daronte Bouldin (6-5, 333) to spend the entire spring at first-team right guard.
He’s not likely to hold the job when Morris returns, Luke believes Bouldin will work his way into the rotation.
Strength is an asset for Bouldin, who squats 600 and bench presses 420.
“I feel like once I learn what the defenses are I’ll play faster,” he said, “Just knowing where they are and reading their stance, knowing what they’re doing so you can play faster.”
Sophomore Austin Golson (6-5, 309) appeared in 12 games as a guard last year but has run first-team right tackle this spring. It’s where he played in high school when ESPN rated him the nation’s No. 3 offensive tackle as a senior.
While Christian Morris’ status is unclear, Golson will share reps with Cooper.
“I just try to work hard. If they come in and beat me then they do. I’m going to try not to let them though,” Golson said.